Book review: Partitions of the Heart by Harsh Mander

Calling out bias
Last Updated 16 February 2019, 19:30 IST

Embers of Gujarat pogrom continue to smoulder. Lynching, hate-mongering and communal propaganda have created a climate of fear in recent years.

Divisive agendas camouflaged in claims of patriotism are raised keeping the communal pot boiling. The targeted crime is tearing society apart, causing immeasurable trauma, pitting friend against friend, and setting neighbour against neighbour. In this milieu, the idea of India enshrined in the Constitution as a secular republic where all citizens are equal before law is in peril. There are also systematic attempts to muffle voices of dissent.

Social activist and academic Harsh Mander analyses the rise of sectarian agenda targeting the minorities and lists the failures of the state, the civil society, judiciary and the media in Partitions of the Heart: Unmaking the Idea of India.

He argues that there are forces in the present ruling establishment striving for another partition, targeting our hearts and minds. Through clinically analysed stories from his own work, he contends that there is a well-entrenched state bias against Muslims in India.

The book devotes a few chapters on Gujarat massacre in 2002 and its far-reaching fallout. The sordid episode of Gulberg Society carnage of 70 people including Congress M P Ehsan Jafri, the abysmal failure of the state government to save the people from the mob fury, render justice to the victims, and nab culprits touch the conscience of any sensitive person.

As one who has worked among the survivors, Mander concludes that the massacre was state-sponsored. To buttress his argument, he points to the shoddy investigations and the acquittal of the many accused along with harassment of honest police officers. Most of the victims could not return to their homes. Systematic economic boycott of Muslims impoverished them further. He states that the doctrine of second-class citizenship for minorities was realised in Gujarat. This Gujarat model of systematic state hostility and discrimination against minorities is being replicated elsewhere.

Partitions of the Heart also delves into the cases of lynchings by cow vigilantes. Mander says it has nothing to do with the love for the cow. “The cow is just recruited as another highly emotive symbol to beat down India’s minorities into submission and fear.”

Pehlu Khan the cattle trader was set upon by a mob for his identity. A young boy Junaid was lynched on board a train for the same reason. Prime Minister Modi’s silence over lynchings was deafening. The role of Sangh Parivar affiliates in stoking hatred also comes under attack. Mander also points out how, during elections, minority hatred is stoked systematically often by Modi’s close associates in BJP and RSS. “Never in free India has the public discourse been so poisoned by MPs and ministers of an elected ruling alliance.”

Mander considers the choice of Yogi Adityanath as UP chief minister a turning point. He says with the election of the ‘most divisive, abusive and polarising figure in UP politics’, the fringe has become the core. He is unsparing in his attack on Modi’s fundamental ideology and world view defined by the RSS.

His paranoia of religious minorities as the enemies within is akin to M S Golwalker’s, “complete antithesis of the idea of India embodied in its Constitution.” The book draws a disturbing comparison between Trump’s America and Modi’s India. While the educated class in the US opposed Trump’s policies against Muslims, coloured people and immigrants, the privileged Indians didn’t care a damn about the divisive politics practised by Modi government.

The book is replete with tales of bias against the minorities. Several incidents of extrajudicial killings including the Hashimpura massacre in 1987, where 42 Muslim men were shot dead by the UP police, also figure in the volume. Mander comes down heavily on the secular parties including the Congress for abandoning secularism. He makes a passionate appeal for public compassion, conscience and justice to fight hate.

Partitions of the Heart is the outpouring of a human rights activist’s sense of outrage. Harsh Mander is no armchair commentator. The man who left IAS following Gujarat pogrom works among the victims of mass violence and the dispossessed. The facts and figures he reels out are from his own experience and meticulous research.

By presenting unpalatable truths and inconvenient figures, he raises disturbing questions and opens our eyes to the horrors of divisive politics. A dispassionate reader may find Mander’s social critique too alarming at times. All is not lost as the just-concluded Assembly election results show.

In the Mewar region of Rajasthan, the epicentre of cow vigilantism, the BJP managed to get only two seats now against nine last time. This only shows that the primary concern of the citizen is the livelihood issue. He will teach a lesson to those hitting his means of sustenance. The volume makes a compelling reading.

(Published 16 February 2019, 19:30 IST)

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